Summary: Are opinions dividing the fellowship? God has a few words to say about that. Actually, most of what God says in the New Testament is about how we come together in Christ to work and worship and call others.
This is the third week since we have entered the practical part of the Roman letter beginning in chapter 12. The heart of that chapter told us:
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Then, last week in chapter 13, after instructions on governing authority, we saw in the heart of that chapter:
8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
What we are learning here is this:
Based on the love and mercy of God, we as Christians live our lives and give our lives to God and one another. Chapter 14 continues this instruction to the church on how to walk in that love. This is not optional. We are defined by this holy, heavenly standard and when the church fails to live by God’s word, the church falls into the judgment of God’s discipline. Our light to the world grows dim, our witness becomes weak. But when we diligently seek to please God and give ourselves to loving one another, the church shines brightly and God is glorified in us.
Today we come to the next section of Romans, chapters 14:1 - 15:7
This section of Romans could be entitled: The weak and the strong.
Those who are weak in this passage are encumbered, not with too few convictions about the Christian life but with too many!
Those who are strong are described as free from certain rules and regulations about days and diet, but perhaps have an attitude problem toward those who are not so free. They are not just irritated by them, they hold them in contempt.
What happens when you get a group together where some feel that let’s say, eating in the church building is wrong while others feel that it is no big deal. Or when some feel that the church money is never to be used to support outside institutions and others feel it is fine to send money from the Church collection
to support a Christian college let’s say. Or maybe some believe that having a bake sale or a car wash on the church property would be wrong while others believe it would be a fine way to raise money for some Christian work or function.
Do these kinds of differences ever occur among Christian people?
Not only do these (and many others like them) occur, but they have the potential to divide brothers and sisters in Christ into factions!
Paul has spent 12 chapters in this letter impressing us with what holds us together before mentioning these issues that so easily tear us apart.
In Chapter 16:17-19 He will issue a strong warning about people who play with issues and cause division.
If we were to pay close attention, we would see something surprising about God’s instructions. Much of what we chose to do or not to do as a church is shaped not by command of God but by our culture, practicality and time worn use. Whether or not to kneel for prayer, whether or not to read from a particular translation of the Bible, how we serve communion, whether or not to use wine or grape juice for the communion, the order of our worship, the times we meet for worship, these and many, many more things about us are largely governed by our opinions (hopefully informed by principles of scripture) and what makes sense for us here.
God has given specific instruction in what to do in several places, but more often we are left to decide how we will do it. We can search for a pattern of worship in the Bible all we want, but we will only find scant details of what they did... not much to describe how they did it. For instance, how much bread did they each eat for communion, and how big were the cups... or was it only one cup? How long was the sermon, and how many songs did they sing? Did they ever sing the second and third verses? How was their singing directed? How did they do prayers? Was it one man leading them or did several lead in prayer? Acts 4:24 sounds like all of them prayed out loud together. Did they have opening and closing prayers? Did they have announcements? When it comes to these kinds of specifics the Holy Spirit did not use much ink.